Charleston native and Gullah Geechee cuisine expert Benjamin “B.J.” Dennis has been named the new culinary director at Lowcountry Fresh Market & Cafe, a Bluffton establishment that’s partnering with the Gullah Farmers Cooperative to offer “as much local produce as Beaufort County residents will buy.” The forthcoming market and cafe is set to open in May, owners Andy and Cindy Rolfe told the City Paper last week.
The husband-and-wife entrepreneurs said Lowcountry Fresh will purchase produce directly from the Gullah Farmers Cooperative, a group representing 17 South Carolina farms, including Joseph Fields Farm on Johns Island. The goal, Dennis said, is to have 70-80% of Lowcountry Fresh’s shelf space stocked with regional produce.
“A lot of the farmers will tell you that their biggest hurdle is moving produce,” Dennis said. “Now they have the opportunity to grow out things all year round for us. They know that somebody is going to buy from them now.”
Once open in May, Lowcountry Fresh will truly offer everything, including local fruits and vegetables, prepared meals, fresh seafood, smoothies and baked goods. But the main goal, Cindy said, is to assist family-owned South Carolina farms.
“We’ve been coming to South Carolina for a long time, so it’s a place we’ve always loved,” said Cindy, who moved to Beaufort County with Andy in 2016. “We thought it was important to use what was in our heads to help other people.”
Since hiring Dennis to join Lowcountry Fresh, the Rolfes have been impressed with his influence on the market/cafe, Andy said. So far, he’s hired several people to join his culinary team, including new executive chef Modou Jaiteh, who cooks dishes he grew up eating in Gambia.
“Once the word was out that B.J. was part of the team, a lot of other people got super excited about it,” Andy said. “His motivations and ours were very much in lockstep.”
As for Dennis, the chef is departing Charleston for now, but he didn’t rule out a return to the Holy City in the near future.
“It’s not a goodbye — all roads in my life lead back here,” Dennis said. “But right now, (Lowcountry Fresh) is my focal point.”
For more information, visit lowcountryfresh.com.